LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mock drafts be damned, Kentucky sophomore Wenyen Gabriel announced Wednesday that he’s staying in the 2018 NBA Draft, forgoing the remainder of his college eligibility.
Less than an hour after teammate PJ Washington announced he will return for his sophomore season, Gabriel released a video on Twitter, saying in part:
“This process hasn’t been easy for me, and it’s choosing between a lifelong dream and playing in front of a fan base that I’ve grown to love so much. … I’ve enjoyed every moment at the University of Kentucky.”
To the best fans in the world, I couldn’t be more honored to have worn that Kentucky name across my chest for the past two years. It truly has been a blessing. To all those who have supported me, I just want to say thank you. My time here will never be forgotten… wish me well! pic.twitter.com/zpukdXMcf1
— UPMΛN™ (@WenyenGabriel) May 30, 2018
Gabriel, a 6-foot-9 former 5-star recruit, was not projected to be picked in any major mock drafts and was not invited to the NBA Combine. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a valuable contributor for the Wildcats last season as a sophomore.
He shot 40 percent from 3-point range and averaged 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 23.1 minutes per game — mostly coming off the bench. Gabriel peaked, though, in the postseason: he made a record 7 of 7 threes in the SEC Tournament semifinals and had 16 points and 12 rebounds in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“After receiving positive feedback, my dreams of becoming a professional basketball player are just that much closer,” Gabriel said in his announcement video. “I believe I’m ready to take that jump.”
Gabriel made 55 percent of his 3-pointers over the final 10 games of the season and hit 62 threes in two years at Kentucky, where he started 30 games in his career. For his final act, Gabriel kept Big Blue Nation waiting on his decision right up until Wednesday’s NBA deadline.
The Wildcats had already lost freshmen Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo to early draft entry and sophomores Sacha Killeya-Jones (N.C. State) and Tai Wynyard (Santa Clara) to transfers — then lost freshman Jarred Vanderbilt, who announced late Wednesday night that he is also staying in the draft.
“Wenyen’s game is where the league continues to trend towards,” coach John Calipari said in a news release. “He’s a positionless big man who can shoot, guard multiple positions and is willing to do what it takes to win. Wenyen grew so much from his freshman season to his sophomore year. If he continues to make those same strides, he’s going to carve himself a role with a team. He and I have talked and he knows he’s going to have to work hard to get there, but I’m confident he can.”
Kentucky will return Washington (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), point guard Quade Green (9.3 ppg, 2.7 apg), shooting guard Jemarl Baker (redshirted last season) and center Nick Richards (5.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) — and is still waiting on an NBA decision from forward Jarred Vanderbilt (5.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg).
The Wildcats are also adding a star-studded freshman class: 5-star point guard Immanuel Quickley, 5-star wing Keldon Johnson, 5-star power forward E.J. Montgomery and 4-star shooting guard Tyler Herro — plus almost certainly the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019, Ashton Hagans, who is expected to reclassify and enroll this summer.
And the potential cherry on top: Now there are multiple reports that the Cats are the likely landing spot for Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis, a former McDonald’s All-American and two-time All-Pac-12 forward who averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last season for the Cardinal.
Multiple sources are speculating that #Stanford PF Reid Travis is returning to school — but, in Lexington, KY. Would become a graduate transfer at #Kentucky and an enormous addition for the Wildcats, if true. Talented big man averaged 19.5 points, 8.7 rbs for the Cardinal.
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) May 30, 2018